In just a few short months, Fugue Machine has created quite a stir thanks to its straightforward interface and unique approach to composing complex patterns, both with external hardware (with the proper iPad MIDI interface) and iOS apps that support MIDI. At first glance, I thought, “Oh hey, a cool new arpeggiator!” But after a few hours with the app, I quickly realized that Fugue Machine is far more than that.
How It works
The concept behind Fugue Machine is simple and elegant. You start by creating a loop (up to eight bars in length) that can be edited and adjusted further in the piano roll editor. As with the majority of iPad apps and modern sequencers, the grid can be constrained to specific keys, modes, and transpositions so your sequence is always spot-on and in tune.
From there, you can set up to four discrete playheads to scan the piano roll at various rates and in a variety of directions. The secret lies in selecting notes that work well in a wide variety of juxtapositions. For example, you could create a one-bar arpeggio-like sequence consisting of a minor seventh chord with an added ninth and set the first playhead to scan it forward. Then, you could add a second playhead to scan the sequence at a quarter of the tempo back-and-forth. There are two more playheads to work with that can be set up using a similar approach, with additional options for octaves, transpositions, and velocity. What’s more, the Shift slider allows you to transpose the results in real time, adding a wonderful layer of interactivity.
With such a straightforward and intuitive set of variables, you can whip up astonishingly complex patterns that run the gamut from ambient to cinematic to trance-like. In the end, the results let you sound like an absolute pro with a modicum of effort; that’s what makes Fugue Machine instantly addictive.
iOS Features While the built-in sounds are excellent for auditioning your sequence ideas, using Fugue Machine with MIDI is where the real action is. I tested it with Korg’s iM1 and Reason’s Thor app and everything worked without a hitch, allowing me to craft ethereal textures on-the-fly as the sequence played. In this area, Fugue Machine is clearly well-coded, because I even shut down the external synths to see if I could crash the app and it immediately switched back to the internal harp-like default sound with only a tiny hiccup. Impressive.
What’s more, if you have an iOS-friendly MIDI interface, you can use Fugue Machine with external hardware. While I definitely prefer keeping everything in the box, it’s great to know the option is available if I need it.
Bach to the Future
Fugue Machine is a truly impressive app that deserves to be in everyone’s iOS toolkit, regardless of your genre of choice. In fact, I had one of the factory preset patterns (Transposer) playing slowly in the background as I wrote this review and never once got bored with it.
Whether you use Fugue Machine as the sole component in a generative/ambient composition or as a source of creative inspiration, you’ll find loads of applications for its innovative sequencing tools.
PROS Innovative approach to sequencing. Compatible with MIDI, Inter-App audio, AudioBus, and external hardware interfaces. Intuitive interface.
CONS Built-in sounds are not adjustable, except for reverb.
Instant creative inspiration for ten bucks.